Panama Publishes Vessel Tracking Data on Global Fishing Watch map

A partnership with Panama sheds light on the activities of one of the largest international fishing fleets, helping combat illegal fishing

The Issue

Despite its small size, Panama is a big player in the maritime world. As well as linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Central American country has more vessels flying its flag than any other state. This includes an international fishing fleet of around 150 vessels, along with some 200 cargo vessels, many of which receive other boats’ catch at sea and transport it to port—a practice known as transshipment.

Vessels flying Panama’s flag have been linked to illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing in the past. The European Commission has twice issued the country with a “yellow card,” warning of further action including a potential import ban if it failed to take measures to stop IUU fishing.

Our Work

In March 2019, the Panama Aquatic Resources Authority (ARAP) formally committed to sharing the country’s vessel monitoring system data on the Global Fishing Watch map. Later that year,  the data was integrated, shining a light on the positions of about 350 distant water vessels in near real time. 

Since Panama’s decision to make the vessel tracking data for its international fleet publicly available, the Central American country has called on other states to follow its commitment to transparency by sharing their own vessel data. At the 34th Session of the Committee on Fisheries, Panama was one of six States to declare the value of open data in fisheries monitoring, helping bring transparency and technological innovation into the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N.’s final report.

Public sharing of VMS data, including lists of authorized vessels, helps improve surveillance and encourages vessels to comply with regulations. It makes it easier to identify unauthorized vessels, those with a history of noncompliance, or vessels that are acting suspiciously—for example, by turning off tracking devices. This means inspections and other enforcement actions can be more targeted and effective.

We continue to support Panama in monitoring its international fleet through periodic analyses and capacity building. Our carrier vessel portal and other data and insight tools have helped inform their decision-making process when it comes to approving fishing licenses and vessel registrations.

“Greater transparency in fishing activity is critical to combat illegal fishing, and enforce compliance in our fleet worldwide. We are very happy to be sharing our vessel tracking data via the Global Fishing Watch platform and continuing our collaboration.”

Flor Torrijos,Director, ARAP

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